How to Perfect the Burpee
The move everyone loves to hate. A CrossFit burpee has some key differences from a standard gym burpee that make it just that little bit more torturous – this post will list the differences and give efficiency tips to get the quickest burpee out of the blocks.
The gym burpee involves getting down into a squat and performing a squat thrust before returning to standing with a jump. The CrossFit burpee, however, requires dropping all the way to the floor so your thighs and chest touch the ground before jumping back up. If you were to slow the movement all the way down, it would be a squat, jump back to plank, push up (with chest to the floor), jump back to a squat and then return to standing with a jump.
But, do that a handful of times and it soon becomes taxing, risking you flagging mid-WOD.
Whenever we look at the Olympic lifts, we always work on technique, technique, technique, before adding weight to the bar. Everyone knows that to get the most out of a lift the technique has to be spot on and as efficient as possible. So why is it so many people neglect technique and efficiency when approaching bodyweight movements?
The idea behind making burpees more efficient is a simple one of minimising effort, or work, and the best way to do this is to stop thinking about the burpee as individual steps – a squat, a plank, a push up, a squat, a jump – try to combine the steps into fewer, more fluid, movements. There are a few key pointers that can achieve this without much practice:
Drop to the floor
First up, you’re wasting energy if you do a controlled eccentric (lowering) movement to the floor. One you’ve bent down and placed your hands on the floor you should aim to jump your legs back while lowering your chest to the ground. It should look like a single movement rather than two obvious phases.
From the floor, you should try to push the top half of your body up while jumping your feet back in towards your hands. Doing a full push up here wastes energy and is fatiguing on your chest, shoulders and triceps – these will be the first to go to jelly if you’re not careful.
Wide, flat-footed landing
When you jump back in from the ground, try to land with your feet at least as wide as your hands, and with your feet flat to the ground – not on your toes. If you land on your toes you already have a shortened calf, reducing the spring in your jump and forcing you to use your calves and quads more to allow you to jump. If you land on flat feet, however, you have a much better position to jump from and can explode up straight from the squat rather than standing up first.
Link your reps
To really get more out of your burpees, try to link the end of one rep into the start of the next by dropping straight back down to the floor from the upward phase of your jump. Do this by bending forwards as you return to the ground from the jump, ideally landing almost straight into a plank position. This can be hard to get used to, but will save you a lot of time on your reps!
When the going gets tough
No matter how efficient your burpees are, there’ll still be times when you need to scale them back a bit. Even with fluid movements you’ll still get out of breath at some point. In longer WODs, or where you have a high volume of burpees to get through, it may be time to look at how you can conserve energy. Here are some more tips:
If you have a lot of burpees to do, consider pushing just your torso up and then jumping your feet in – this may look a bit counter-intuitive, and isn’t the nicest technique (only do this if you’re free from back problems), but it saves quite a lot of energy as your arms only have to push up a small fraction of your body weight from the ground.
To conserve energy, consider stepping your legs out one at a time, stepping them in one at a time, or both. You may be surprised how much longer you can keep this going than someone doing the jump out and jump in method.
When doing bar facing burpees, like in the CrossFit Games Open 16.1 WOD, jumping into a lunge position can be more efficient, as your front leg is already near the bar and you just need to step your back one in to then jump over the bar. This is kind of a cross between jumping in, and stepping in and can save you loads of energy allowing you to work through burpees more consistently.
Love them or hate them?
Whether your eyes light up, or you’re filled with doom, at the sight of burpees on the WOD board, these tips should at least help you make them a little bit more comfortable! Burpees may be everyone’s favourite swear word, but the key to knocking them out when the clock is ticking is to keep them fluid and efficient.
Georgina Ellis (née Spenceley) is a full-time business analyst, part-time sports massage therapist, freelance fitness writer, and a blogger at fitcetera. Running, CrossFit, and yoga are her weapons of choice, but she also enjoys trying new fitness concepts. She started CrossFit in December 2013 and has never looked back, declaring a love for anything involving a barbell.
Since studying for her first fitness qualification in 2009, Georgina has developed skills in coaching, Pilates instruction, sports massage, and gait analysis, as well as nutrition. She has a keen interest in anatomy and biomechanics.
Georgina also has a passion for stylish apparel and sometimes geeks out with science and gadgets. She believes in a balanced approach to nutrition. No fads, no elimination – just moderation and learning to give your body what it needs, when it needs it.